Smoker? You must be a pirate!

Retail Ireland is a part of IBEC – the Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation. They’ve just released a report that tells us the state is losing €860m annually to the black market. The problem with their report is that if it’s believed, it effects government policy. And, well, their statistics just don’t add up.

In this report, Retail Ireland tell us that €526,000,000 is lost to the Exchequer in smuggled tobacco and cigarettes. They also helpfully tell us that taxation accounts for 80% of the price of tobacco; and that “the current recommended price is now nearly €9” (it isn’t – it was over €9.50/packet when I gave up, over three months ago). And that a black market packet of cigarettes costs €3.20.

But using their figures:
* €526,000,000 lost to the exchequer, at 80% taxation implies €657,500,000 in illicit sales.
* At €3.20/packet, thats 205,468,750 packets of illegal cigarettes sold every year.
* That’s 562,900 packets of illegal cigarettes smoked every single day of the year.
* Ireland’s population, aged 15 and over, is 3,311,517 (last CSO figures).
* Therefore, we are supposed to believe that on average, every single person in the country aged 15 and over smokes almost 1/5th of a packet of illegal cigarettes – three to four ciggies – each. Every single day.

That seems… unlikely. And it is:

* The Office for Tobacco Control says that the prevalence of smoking in those aged 15 and over is only 23.6%not 100%.
* So the population, for our purposes, isn’t 3.3 million, it’s 781,518.
* Therefore, we are supposed to believe that on average, every single smoker in the country smokes over 70% of a packet of illegal cigarettes – 14 cigarettes – each. Every day.

Am I missing something here? Because if every single smoker is smoking that many illegal cigarettes, then who the hell is buying all the legitimate cigarettes? And what are they doing with them?!

Yes, I am sure there is a hell of a problem with black market trading of tobacco, fuel, counterfeit goods, and so on. But I’d like solutions, policies and resources deployed based on more accurate figures than the ones Retail Ireland seem to be plucking at. Rather than, for example, the establishment of specialised “copyright courts”, which they seek.

Because if they’re so inaccurate about tobacco, then I can only assume that they’re equally inaccurate about their figure for “1 in 2 of people who downloaded movies admitted they rarely if ever paid for the download.” (This gets attributed to an unnamed “Industry source”  So that’d be inaccurate. And unbiased.). There are, apparently, according to Retail Ireland, 770,000 illegal downloaders in Ireland.

Hmm. That figure is remarkably close to the number of smokers, 781,518… You could almost call it a correlation!  I wonder. If we cut off the internet access of Ireland’s smokers, would illegal downloading drop to zero?

Decentralisation: doing the same thing over and over…

A famous man once said that the definition of insanity was:

“Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Einstein

Obviously, nobody has repeated these sage words to Young Dev.  Somebody let him near a microphone again, and so at the Merriman Summer School, he’s been extolling the virtues of decentralisation.

I used to work in a government department which had a head office and several smaller offices around the country, with a workforce of over 1,000 people.  Around 50 to 60 or so worked in “my” area, and I had excellent promotion prospects.  I now work in an organisation with less than 100 people, total, and my only hope of promotion in this organisation is if my boss dies, or retires.  I believe the Klingons have a word for the former method?  The reason for my move was, of course, decentralisation.  I had no desire to move to a midlands town.  Even if I did have, my family didn’t.  And y’know, my wife has a job in Dublin too…

This notion was first inflicted on the country by then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds (after advice from the self-congratulatory Terry Leyden), who took ten years to “move” the  General Registrar’s Office from Dublin to Roscommon, where it’s no good to anybody.  (Really.  It’s actually easier for an American tourist to trace their Irish roots by visiting the Mormons in Salt Lake City, Utah, than it is to get access to Ireland’s public birth, marriage and death records. But sure who needs tourist dollars, it’s not like there’s a recession).

The idea was more or less parked for several years.  We had some decentralised offices – generally sections of larger departments.  The Collector General’s office was based in Limerick, and Pensions were in Sligo.  It kind of worked ok, though if you were on the inside looking out, you could see the problems.

Then – Charlie McCreevy. We were going to decentralise, and how!  Forget this piecemeal moving of bits of organisations!  Let’s move whole government departments!  11,000 jobs taken out of Dublin and moved around the country!  Because that made perfect sense…

Only it doesn’t.  The project was, of course, a complete and utter expensive failure. Loss of corporate memory.  Huge inefficiencies.  More expense.  No proper planning.  No planning at all.  Sticking departments where it’d win votes (Marine to a landlocked county?  The Irish Prison Service to somewhere with no prisons?), not where it might make some sense. Ignoring the government’s own spacial strategy.  And so on.

Dev Óg

Proverbs 26:11

Éamon O Cuiv wants to go back to all that.

“Decentralised offices had lower staff turnover, saved money on property expenses and ensured economic growth in areas that would otherwise not attract industry, achieving balanced regional development.”

“Decentralised offices had lower staff turnover”:  Yes, this is true.  This is a bad thing.  They have low staff turnover because if you’ve decentralised to, say, Killarney, there’s nowhere else for you to move to that’s within a reasonable commute.  So you stay put.  Stagnating. Forever.

“…saved money on property”: Yes, this is true.  An office in Sligo is cheaper than the equivalent office space in Dublin.  Assuming everything was procured properly and above board, and not done on a nod and a wink basis.  Which I’m sure never happened anywhere. We won’t mention all the additional costs associated with decentralisation, either, cos that’d be embarrassing.

“…ensured economic growth in areas that would otherwise not attract industry”: Well – if providing 100 or so jobs in a town is the purpose of a government department, then I guess this could be true. Except no.  The purpose of government departments is to help develop and implement government policy, at the behest of our elected politicians, in conjunction with stakeholders and, well – ideally – other government departments!  You know – that “joined-up government” that everyone thinks would be a good idea!

Ok, Éamon, you’re a politician. You were speaking to your audience – mainly people from the country, while in your own back yard.  You know your audience.  But please tell me that’s all it was, a bit of harmless showboating in the middle of silly season.  Rather than a serious FF policy, which will cost us if you ever get back into power.

€238,000. Per job.

Let them eat cake!

Having thought about this quite a bit, I don’t want to see the Seanad abolished.  It definitely needs major reform – direct elections, an actual workload, some real power, and so on – but if that sort of reform doesn’t come, then yes, abolish it.

Unfortunately, some of the senators we have had in the recent past *cough* Callely *cough* make it harder to justify retaining what has become a training ground for prospective TDs and a retirement home for failed TDs.

Then one of them comes out with this declaration of entitlement and privilege.

/facepalm, /headdesk, and other such /emotes.

Fidelma Healy-Eames really said those things.

Let’s ignore the whole thing about VSO for the moment, and the rightness or otherwise of expecting them to stump up the cash for vaccines, especially when you were going to take your holiday in Kenya, only 800km or so from Rwanda.

She says: “It’s very hard work. You have two-and-a-half to three weeks’ work in one week. We start at 8 in the morning and don’t finish until 5 or 6. That’s a lot more work than a day at home.”

Well, no, not really.  Don’t take my word for it, though – someone’s done the maths!

“2.5-3 times normal weekly time implies that ‘normal’ working hours for Mrs Eames are in the region of at most 10/2.5=4 hours.”

It gets worse.

Fidelma Healy-Eames also says: “You couldn’t drink the water, so you had to hold your mouth closed while someone washed your hair.”  

Now, in fairness, I haven’t checked.  It’s possibly Healy-Eames has some sort of disability that prevents her from washing her own hair.  I don’t know.  But I’ve been able to manage washing my own hair since, well, young adulthood.  I can do it while keeping my mouth closed, too.

“…and you might not even have an iron.”

Oh, the humanity.

So – what work was facing Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames on these arduous, back-breaking, nine- to ten-hour days?  Was she building homes or schools?  Digging wells?  Working in an orphanage?  Helping out at a hospital?

Er, no.  She was “advising a minister in Rwanda on early childhood education.”  So – sitting on her arse, talking.

Oh – and the media are having a witch hunt against her.  In other words, nothing is her fault, it’s the media.  Uh-huh.

New marketing strategy: advertise our crapness!

There’s a new advert for eircom broadband doing the rounds.  I’d link to it, but it appears noone has deemed it worthy of uploading to YouTube just yet.  Understandably so.  A quick rundown of the advert:

There’s a party or some sort of social gathering on. Middle-aged bald, bespectacled guy – the stereotypical know-it-all, smug annoying neighbour – mentions to the host that he’s  gotten a new internet connection.

Host: “Let me get my IT department.”  His son wanders over. All 10 or so years of him. “Internet. Go.”  And the son asks a series of questions.

Son: “8Mb?”

Old, bald, guy: “Emm, yes.”

Son: “Uncongested?”

Old, bald, guy: “Eh…”

Son: “Kids in an exam year?”

Old, bald, guy: (thinks about it for a moment) “Yes.”

Son: “Studyhub?”

Old, bald, guy: “Eh… no?”

Son: “Free streaming music?”

Old, bald, guy: “No.”

Son: “*tsk* We’re done here.”

Which all seems fine and dandy.  Kids understand that internet thing. Old people don’t.  So our product, eircom broadband, is praised by this kid, while pointing out what a buffoon this old, bald guy is for getting the non-eircom package.

Now, in fairness, I do know some people who love their eircom broadband.

They all happen to live outside Dublin and have zero choice in internet service provider, if they want to pay a reasonable amount per month.  They “love” their eircom broadband in the same way I “love” oxygen.  I don’t have any choice in the matter…

So let’s rewind that advert…

Son: “8Mb?”

Old, bald, guy: “Jesus, no, not for a few years now. I used to be _promised_ 8Mb by eircom, and be charged for it, but they never managed more than 2 or 3Mb download.  I’m on 30Mb now.”

Son: “Uncongested?”

Old, bald, guy: “Of course!”

Son: “Kids in exam year?”

Old, bald, guy: “For the sake of this imaginary conversation, let’s say yes.”

Son: “Studyhub?”

Old, bald, guy: “Eh… no.  You’ve got me there.  But y’know, it’s the internet.  It has things like Google.  So they can look up all sorts of wonderful educational resouces from all over the world. And, because it’s an actual decent connection, they won’t see that ‘buffering’ thing we used to get when we were on eircom.

Though I freely admit they’re far more likely to just be on Facebook or looking at cat videos on YouTube.”

Son: “Free streaming music?”

Old, bald, guy: “Eh… you really don’t get this whole ‘online’ thing, do you?  It’s the Internet!  Do you know how many free, streaming music services there are?”

Son: “Uhh… but aren’t they illegal?”

Old, bald, guy: “Eh, no.  Mind you, if you’re on eircom? Don’t be tempted to ever download anything you don’t have the rights to. Three-strikes rule. Eircom are the only ISP to have agreed to it.  Basically how it works is that you download something that they think is illegal, they’ll write to your dad.  Invasion of privacy, much?

And if it gets done four times from your connection, they’ll cut you off.  Even if it was you one time, your sister another, your dad another and – oh – better hope your wifi is secure, too… cos those stereotypical students next door, if they were to hack your eircom wifi router and download stuff – yeah, you’d get blamed for that too.

But anyway – yeah, sorry, 8Megs and ‘free’ stuff that the Internet gives me anyway?  Look – I’m sorry, but we’re done here.”

Son: “Waaaaah!”

The thing is – everyone seems to know that eircom are crap.  Literally, the only people I know using them for internet are those who can’t get another ISP in their area.  Or those who’ve no techie knowledge whatsoever and just go for whatever seems handiest/the one they’ve heard of.  Or who really don’t want or need Internet apart from email and booking tickets. And one thing eircom does a lot of is advertising. “8Mb”  For real?  8Mb is… ten years ago.  Don’t boast about it.  Especially when you don’t even actually manage to deliver 8Mb!